AMS AMS Science for the City #9 – Food-proof cities – Summary of the evening

On May 8th, we got together in Pakhuis de Zwijger for AMS Science for de City #9 – Food-proof cities. During the session the central question was: how do we feed the increasingly car-free, yet growing city of Amsterdam? As the number of inhabitants in Amsterdam will touch upon 1 million in the upcoming decade, the amount of mouths that need to be fed in the city will rise accordingly. Moreover, with the (re)development of areas such as Havenstad and Het Marineterrein and the ambitions for the transformation of the dense inner city into a car-free zone, there is an urgent need to (re)design the food flows in Amsterdam. We discussed how these political decisions impact the food logistics of the city, and what data we need to collect and map, to make informed decisions to ensure food-proof cities, now and in the future.

Researchers shared the outcome of their research project Evidence-based Food System Design with the audience.

This project, conducted by Aeres, AMS Institute and the Evidence-based Food System Design group of the HvA, offers insight of the food system through data, thereby providing spatial & logistic scenarios and solutions for a healthier and sustainable food system in the Metropolitan Area of Amsterdam.

The evening started with researcher and projectleader Urban Technology Melika Levelt, who explained why it is so important to gain insight in the food system. Renzo Akkerman, Associate Professor in Operations Research and Logistics (WUR), discussed the role of logistics in the food system. How can we use data on food flows to identify collaboration opportunities? How can we optimize the related logistics?

In the second half of the evening the public was divided over tables with different themes; The overcrowded city (mobility), The circular city (closing cycles), Plus 250.000 new houses (sustainable development), and Amsterdam – free of obesity (well-being). Each table discussion was led by two experts from the field and together the case of Marineterrein Amsterdam was examined from different angles.

Here you can read the main take-outs from three of the tables. The recording of the whole session can be watched here.

The overcrowded city (mobility)
Expert leads: Kees Willem Rademakers (HvA) & Renzo Akkerman (WUR)

The demand for logistics (including waste collection) will increase in the future, but there will be less space for it. In the redesign of the Marineterrein, there is the possibility to respond to this demand by:

  • Defining the space for the expected logistical demand: the required logistics depends on the use of space (including stores, catering, housing). Providing a logistical estimation enables to design right from the start loading/offloading sites, necessary infrastructure(s) and storage spaces.
  • Educating future residents by setting up clear preconditions about ordering and receiving goods. These conditions will be aligned with all residents and companies of the Marineterrein. For example, the number of deliveries per day (bundling) should be limited or all goods should be delivered with zero-emission. Water transport is a logical step for the Marineterrein because the location is surrounded by water.
  • Sharing data from deliveries to monitor logistics and make it more efficient: all residents and companies provide insight into what they receive when and how. This data can therefore be used to collectively organize smarter logistics.

Plus 250.00 new homes (sustainable development)
Expert leads: Melika Levelt (HvA) & Herman Wagter (Marineterrein Amsterdam)

In the world of urban and spatial design, a number of design principles are currently popular and focusing on reducing the ecological footprint of the city:

  • Creating ‘oases’ throughout the city, within which no to little traffic is allowed and where the surrounding traffic is regulated (such as the superblocks in Barcelona).
  • Designing ‘hubs’ for all kinds of basic facilities such as energy, water, food / delivery.

The data of this research could help determine what scale these closed systems and hubs could best be made. There is, however, no ‘one size fits all’ for this data, as it relies on local specificities. That is why the data collected is interesting – it can be modeled and substantiated. At the same time, an important insight from the design world is that what is now an evidence will no longer be applicable: everything will change. Flexibility and an adaptive spatial design are therefore very important. Modularity can certainly also play a role.

An important point to note about food delivery is that the demand can be influenced by seasonability and cultural differences. We might be able to improve the current data to gain insight into the question of whether these factors are valuable for the quantity and direction of transport movements, as well as the demand and possibilities for a storage solution. We could, therefore, be able to respond to this demand for adaptability in the design at an early stage.


Amsterdam – free of obesity (well-being)
Expert leads: Jessica van Bossum (HvA) Joreintje Mackenbach (VU)

Our table looked at the city’s role in creating a healthy (food) environment in the city. We were lucky to have Joreintje Mackenbach in our group: she is a researcher at VU MC looking into, among other things, the relationship between food environment and health. The starting point of the discussion were maps of food outlets in the city, with associated health scores. While these provide a good starting point, the group felt that more insight might come from showing (unhealthy) food outlets vs total outlets, vs pedestrian flows and vs. demographic data (for instance: is there a correlation between age and the number of fast food outlets?).

But before drawing any conclusions about healthy food environments, we need more insight into how that foodscape affects different people. What motivates people to buy unhealthy food? Which people are sensitive to the many temptations around them, and why? While the correlation between food environment and healthy lifestyle is clear, causation is not. Do people have unhealthy lifestyles because they’re surrounded by fast food restaurants, or do those restaurants move into areas where people have unhealthy lifestyles?

Research elsewhere has shown that when you change the foodscape, it changes housing prices. Creating a healthier food environment may not make people healthier: It could simply attract people that already have a healthy lifestyle. Finally, the group came up with some suggestions to improve the food environment: First, to involve residents in decisions about what food outlets to allow in their area. And second, to influence consumption behavior through fat and sugar taxes.

Together with Pakhuis de Zwijger we organise a series on metropolitan development and innovation. How can big data, prototyping, 3D-printing and scientific innovation help to solve the complex challenges that the metropole Amsterdam faces? Upcoming and established (inter)national urban professionals from AMS and our academic partners will introduce us to the newest research and practical solutions within urban themes as water, energy, waste, food, data and mobility.